Despite the waning number of Christians in the country, Iraq’s parliament unanimously passed a law to make Christmas “a national holiday, with annual frequency,” according to Christianity Today.
The declaration is the first of its kind to allow Christians to celebrate the holiday every year. In 2008, parliament agreed Christmas could be a “one-time holiday”; ten years later, the government allowed Christmas for all citizens. But the leaders never renewed the law annually.
“Today Christmas is truly a celebration for all Iraqis,” said Basilio Yaldo, bishop at the Chaldean Catholic Church of Baghdad. “This is a message of great value and hope.”
Though religious leaders rejoiced at the news, they continued to express concern for their people.
“The declaration is very beautiful, but it is very late,” said Ashur Eskrya, president of the Assyrian Aid Society—Iraq. “But our trouble is not in holidays, it is in the situation of our people.”
Experts estimate only 250,000 Christians remain in the fractious country. Prior to the US invasion and ISIS insurgency, nearly 1.4 million Christians lived in Iraq.
Iraqis rarely celebrate national holidays. The nation doesn’t commemorate its independence from Great Britain since it coincides with a day of mourning for a Kurdish rebel who worked against Saddam Hussein. And, several Iraqi politicians find the overthrow of Hussein too divisive to celebrate.
But Ara Badalian, pastor of the National Baptist Church in Baghdad, believes the new Christmas law will bring hope and restoration to the small Christian population.
“I hope it will be accompanied by helping the tiny minority of Christians to remain in Iraq,” he said. “[The government] must rebuild their damaged homes, and provide them with protection.”
Also bolstering hopes is the new prime minster, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who told Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako that he would oversee the return of Christian refugees. Pope Francis also announced earlier this month his intention to visit “the plains of Ur, linked to the memory of Abraham” in Iraq.
“An insistent thought accompanies me when I think about Iraq,” Francis said in June 2019 when he first announced his plans. “I want to go…so that it can look to the future through peaceful and shared participation in the construction of common good.”
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Romanista
Mikaela Mathews is a freelance writer and editor based in Dallas, TX. She was the editor of a local magazine and a contributing writer for the Galveston Daily News and Spirit Magazine.